Banks graduated seven of its top nine scorers from last year's tourney team

The Banks girls basketball team has achieved a remarkable string of success over the past three seasons, including three consecutive state tournament trophies and a Cowapa League championship.

This year’s squad may yet continue that legacy of success, but it will look much different in doing so.

As first-year Banks coach Brandon Begley noted, his team headed into this winter having graduated all five of its 2012-13 starters — which included first team all-state selection Riley Gerlinger — as well as seven of the team’s top nine players.

Last season’s senior group was part of strong back-to-back classes that drove the Lady Braves to their state hardware, the past two seasons’ 21-5 and 22-5 overall records and a league title. With those classes now graduated, a new era is on tap for Banks, and this season’s version of the Braves features some returning players stepping into larger roles and well as some exciting newcomers.

“We’ll start coming together, and we have a lot of talent and kids that work hard,” Begley said. “So we’ll take some bumps early on in the season, but we’ll come along and be competitive.”

Similar to some of his players, Begley is also stepping into a bigger role this winter as the head coach of the program. A year ago, Begley was an assistant to Nick Rizzo, who is still around this season, having swapped positions with Begley and taken over the assistant’s role. The continued presence of the two coaches will provide continuity for a team with some youth and inexperience.

While many of this season’s faces are new, Begley said, defensive play will remain a team “calling card.” On offense, he said, “we’re going to look to push the ball up the floor a little bit more than we did last year.”

Begley’s two returners with the most varsity experience are both multisport stars. Senior point guard Lauren Birr was a part-time starter a year ago while Lexi Chung dealt with a shoulder injury, and Megan Bunn is a 6-foot post who broke out at the Class 4A state tournament in Corvallis to cap her freshman year.

“The last two years she’s kind of been more of the facilitator from the point guard spot, where this year she’s going to be looking to score a little bit more, and she’s stepping into a leadership role,” Begley said about the 5-foot-8 Birr, who is now in her third year on varsity and also excels in soccer and track and field at Banks.

As for Bunn, she showed flashes of promise in her first season in a Braves uniform, but she is being called upon to take a bigger role this season.

“She probably took half the season last year to really gain her confidence, but by the end of the season ... she was really coming along,” Begley recalled. “When we went to Gill Coliseum ... she was our best player down there and probably was one of the five best players down at the state tournament and just put up big numbers.

“She’s going to definitely kind of be the focal point of our offense and is taking on more of a load than she has before, but she’s willing to accept that and has been working hard, and she just improves each and every day at practice.”

Senior 5-8 wing/post Amy Hilger joins Birr and Bunn as a team captain and contributes some experience. She averaged about 10 minutes per game last season, Begley said, and she is the leader of the defense.

“She can change a game single-handedly on the defensive end,” Begley said. “We’re excited about what she’s going to do this year.”

Wing Madison Soper (5-6) also saw a few varsity minutes a season ago and is back for her junior season.

As for the varsity newcomers, Begley is excited about 5-9 sophomore post Ariel Slifka, who he said put in a lot of work in the offseason and complements Bunn down low. After a successful freshman volleyball season, Mary Schorn, a 5-8 guard/wing, will offer versatility and scoring ability coming off the bench for Banks.

Hannah VanDomelen, a 5-6 junior wing, rounds out the starting unit that includes Bunn, Hilger, Birr and Slifka.

“She’s ... kind of that scrapper that every team likes to have that’s not afraid to get on the floor and take charges and just be aggressive out there for us,” Begley said of VanDomelen.

Banks kicked off the season last Friday with a 36-24 victory at Molalla, and the Braves will continue to be tested in the early going of the season. They were scheduled to host Estacada on Tuesday evening (results not available at press deadline), and they are slated to take on La Salle in Milwaukie on Friday. The Falcons dealt Banks a 48-36 loss in the fourth-place game at the state tournament in March to close out the 2012-13 season.

Then, on Dec. 17, Banks hosts Central, another team Begley expects to be in the top 10 of Class 4A this season. The Braves will also open the North Marion Tournament on Dec. 19 against Regis, which has won four state titles in the past four seasons (Class 3A in 2010, Class 2A from 2011-2013). The squad is scheduled to open defense of its Cowapa League title on Jan. 21 against Yamhill-Carlton.

“I tell them in practice right now we’re not a great team, but we have the talent to be a great team by the end of the season,” Begley said. “How far we go is going to depend on what kind of work they put in and how they come together as a team.”

Forest Grove Lady Vikings

The Forest Grove girls basketball team started the 2012-13 season hot, winning nine of its first 11 games.

But the injury bug struck — including the loss of returning all-league post Abby Jensen, who missed the final 13 games of the year — with several key players in and out of the lineup all season, which coach Dan Lumpkin said impacted his squad’s cohesiveness.

The Lady Vikings struggled in league play before finishing 11-14 overall and 3-11 in the Pacific Conference, tied with Century for sixth place.

“Those are the things you can’t necessarily control,” Lumpkin said about the injuries. “You just hope for the best.”

Last year’s outcome leaves this team looking for better, thanks in part to the leadership of six experienced seniors.

Of the six, five were starters last year as juniors, and 6-foot post Madi Andresen, 6-2 post Kaitlin Jamieson, and guards Hannah Swanson (5-5) and Mary Hutchins (5-9) earned all-league honors at the end of the regular season.

Jamieson, Swanson and Hutchins, who set the program single-season record for steals last year, were honorable mention picks. Also on the defensive side of the ball, Jamieson recorded the fourth-best single-season blocks mark.

The other two seniors who are back are guards Shelby Turner-Thurman (6-0) and Emilia Anderson (5-9).

“There’s a lot of experience, a lot of veteran-ness to that,” Lumpkin said of his senior class.

Lumpkin said that the team’s strength is its post play, and that Andresen and Jamieson both get plenty of chances to score.

“We’re going to rely on them again this year, but we also have several guards around the perimeter, girls that can shoot, girls that can handle the ball, that can drive,” Lumpkin said. “So we’re a really well-rounded team. We have a lot depth and athleticism, which is nice.”

The rest of this year’s group is new to the varsity squad but offers a lot of potential. Sophomore wing/post Alyssa Villalobos (5-9), coming off a freshman year in which she qualified for the Class 6A state track and field meet in the long jump, provides additional athleticism and is a solid rebounder and defender, according to Lumpkin.

McKenzie Long, a 5-2 point guard, is one of three freshmen to crack the varsity roster this winter and offers court vision, depth, shooting and ball handling skills.

The Vikings opened the season with a 56-49 home victory against Lincoln and were scheduled to take on Grant on Tuesday (results not available at press deadline). They welcome reigning Class 6A state champion Central Catholic to Joe Moran Court on Friday and will continue with a nonleague schedule into the new year before opening conference play at Hillsboro on Jan. 10.

“Our goal every year is we want to be competitive,” Lumpkin said. “We want to compete night in, night out, and the end goal is we want to put ourselves in a position to make the playoffs.”

Gaston Greyhounds

The Gaston girls basketball team welcomes a new leader this season, as Travis Martin takes over as head coach for Lono Waiwaiole, who steered the team to an 8-15 overall record last season and a 7-9 campaign in the Northwest League, good for a three-way tie for fifth place.

Martin, 34, who played basketball at nearby Newberg High School and took over the Gaston position in October, is already pretty familiar with his personnel because he served as Marc Roche’s assistant on the Gaston boys team last season and frequently watched the girls play.

“There’s tons of talent there,” Martin said. “The girls are great. I think we’ll be all right this year.”

Martin noted that while his team possesses a lot of talent, what it does not have is experience, which was revealed in a season-opening 71-31 loss to Kennedy.

He is excited in particular about senior wing Tina Turner, whom he called “the heart of the team.”

“She’s the first one in practice, last one to leave,” Martin said.

The Greyhounds also welcome back four juniors who all started as sophomores. They are wings Haylie Davis, Jaycie Endicott and Veronica Vandehey, and point guard Amber Kuyl. Martin is also looking forward to what freshmen Jessica Knutson and Maddie Watkins will be able to do off the bench.

“They just get after it. They don’t care who they’re playing,” Martin said about the youngsters. “They just want to play and get better, so I’m really excited about their effort. Like I said, a ton of talent. Just got to get the experience there.”

Martin expects for his quick and athletic team — which he said includes a lot of multisport athletes who are not necessarily tall — to play an up-tempo game with a focus on getting off a lot of shots.

The squad was supposed to host a tournament and get in a couple more games over this past weekend, but the contests were canceled due to inclement weather that swept through Oregon at the time.

That means the Hounds are getting limited opportunities to jell before kicking off Northwest League play on Friday at Knappa. In fact, the team’s only other contest before league play starts was a game scheduled at Monroe on Tuesday. (Results not available at press deadline.)

The Greyhounds will play in some nonleague contests over winter break before resuming conference play with a Jan. 7 game at Riverdale.

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